December 9, 2014

(Report from Winnipeg)

Bracing weather in Winnipeg this morning: -27 and gusty. Fortunately I have retained my childhood skill of running backward into the wind.

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Sundogs were visible throughout the day and could be captured clearly with the camera as the sun began to set.

Winnipeg Art Gallery

The annual Sobey Award of $50,000 goes to a single Canadian artist under 40 years of age. Four runners up receive $5,000 each. This year the Winnipeg Art Gallery hosted an exhibition of the finalists and the ceremony in which this year’s winner, Nadia Myre of Quebec, was announced. Finalists include Evan Lee (West Coast and The Yukon), Neil Farber and Michael Dumontier (Prairies and the North), Chris Curreri (Ontario), and Atlantic (Graeme Patterson). I’ve never seen the country divided up quite that way. For me, the art on display is equally novel.

The work of Graeme Patterson is almost indescribably strange. The exhibition displays a half hour long, stop-motion animated film featuring two fur covered humanoid creatures: a bison/human and a lion/human. These two cavort, party, moonwalk, build furniture, chop wood, practice archery, light fires, watch sports, hunt and battle desperately with their fully animal counterparts, until finally, the bison/human gravely injures the lion/human.

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Stills from The Secret Citadel by Craeme Patterson

It’s impossible to walk away from this film. It is so bizarre and original and at the same time has such engaging emotional nuance and a very solemn depth.

Another piece by Graeme Patterson, called Taming the Wild, is a kind of natural history diorama displaying a ragtag selection of roughly taxidermied  animals. A sculpture of a man, possibly a self-portrait, is included in the tableau of delicately posed creatures on slender pedestals.

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Details of Taming the Wild by Graeme Patterson

Two pieces by Neil Farber and Michael Dumontier, members of Winnipeg’s Royal Art Lodge, are on display.

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Library is a giant painting utterly stuffed with information.  It consists of hundreds of tiny precise paintings of books, rendered in a flat, comic-book style.  Their titles – always drole, sometimes ironic, sometimes fey – are visible.

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Detail of Library by Neil Farber and Michael Dumontier

Another piece by the collaborating artists, Neil Farber and Michael Dumontier, is sheer poetry.  Dozens of epigrammatic phrases are displayed in a grid of framed pieces.

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Here is one of the pithy texts:

“…and I started getting really

interested in eloquence and profundity.

There were just both so fucking awesome

and cool.”

– by Neil Farber and Michael Dumontier

I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking at when it came to the photographs of Chris Curreri. Is this organic matter, closeups of a damp seaside grotto, body parts, melting ceramics or some kind of darkroom manipulation?

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Untitled (Clay Portfolio) by Chris Curreri

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Untitled (Clay Portfolio)

Technically masterful, this series of black and white prints lining a long hallway provide a intense visual experience.  It is partially because of the ambiguity of the subject matter and too because they are so formally voluptuous.

A bust looking out over the gallery above eye level has a shocking quality.  It is approached from the rear and it’s only on walking around it to see the front that the viewer is startled to find it has been violently defaced.

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Views of Medusa by Chris Curreri

Work by Evan Lee has an urgent, contemporary political sense to it. It seems like the artist is trying to keep up with numerous ideas and social forces colliding and richochetting around his world. Black Bloc Abstraction, shown below, initially appears to be an abstract painting until it coheres into waves of black clad protestors, as per the infamous G-20 Summit, held in Toronto in 2010.

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Black Bloc Abstraction by Evan Lee

Large, mostly black paintings consisting of rich fields of varying depth, reveal themselves to be depictions of masked or hooded youth.  Are these guys violent thugs or idealistic protestors?  Evan Lee raises ideas about anarchy, fraying social bonds and alienation in his portrayal of Black Bloc idealogues.

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Black Blot 2 by Evan Lee

In an art piece using numerous different media the subject matter is the migrant to Canada.  Darkly murky portraits attempt to celebrate the importance of an individual: unknown, far from home and alone.

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Migrant Portrait by Evan Lee

The snapshots shown below, of young men nervously vamping for the camera, anxious about their chances for the future, are displayed in a vitrine, with other depictions of a migrant experience.

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Art piece by Evan Lee

Nadia Myre’s work is a grand sociological effort to heal the wounded.  Ongoing since 2005 The Scar Project is a the remarkable focusing of one individual’s compassion to engage numerous others (800 at last count) to participate in a healing action.  Nadia Myre has travelled around the country convincing people to create a “canvas representation of a physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual scar they may have, and write out the accompanying narrative.”

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Hand stitiched on unbleached fabric, using humble tools and unsophisticated imagery, these artworks have a feeling of humility, earnestness and honesty.  Nadia Myre is delving into profound subject matter: social change at the level of the individual, involving self reflection, pain and forgiveness.